NEW YORK CITY — New World Stage Four was already raucous when it happened.
As everything was flying off the rails for actors in “The Murder at Haversham Manor” — the play-within-the-play of Off-Broadway’s “The Play That Goes Wrong” — Jordan-Matthews High School actors sitting front row center were laughing louder than most.
And Laci Burt was laughing louder than the rest.
It was a fact that didn’t escape actor Matt Harrington, who was looking at that moment for someone just like Laci. Standing on stage a few feet away, his character slowly turned toward Laci and glared into her eyes. “What are you laughing at?” he screamed in anguish. “Shut up!” And with that, 350 audience members exploded once again. And somehow, the J-M actor had managed to work her way into the drama.
It’s these unexpected moments that help make the New York Arts Adventure so memorable for six to eight student artists, who spend five days in the city over spring break experiencing the pinnacle of their arts and learning directly from world-class professionals.
But most of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences are carefully planned.
Like when students sat down for lunch at the famed Joe Allen restaurant with Jessie Austrian, a Broadway actor, theater director, NYU instructor and producer for Fiasco Theater (who, by the way, once collaborated with Stephen Sondheim). The table discussed pursuing their love of the arts in college and beyond, especially how to navigate a competitive business and others’ expectations.
Or when they had another long lunch late in the week for a wide ranging discussion with Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks, a journalist who holds a Pulitzer Prize as part of a news reporting team and often chairs the jury selecting finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. That conversation began with the students’ assessment of shows they saw in New York before shifting to how they approached their own production of “Oklahoma!” When Marks casually said, “Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll review you guys,” one of the J-M artists called it “literally a jaw-dropping moment.”
And then there was an audience with the queens. After Broadway’s hot new musical “Six,” the six J-M artists sat down with half of the six ex-wives of King Henry VIII to discuss the show and how the actors — Andrea Macasaet performing as Anne Boleyn, Samantha Pauly as Katherine Howard and Keirsten Nicole Hodgens as Anna of Cleves — navigated their way from distant hometowns to the Broadway stage.
The trip wasn’t all about performing arts. There was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art to encounter masterpieces like Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and pay tribute to Frida Kahlo, pretty much J-M’s patron saint of art. And for a different take on art, a hands-on graffiti workshop with Leaf, one of the city’s famous graffiti writers, after students toured street art in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.
All of the activities are selected each year with the traveling students, and sometimes they divide into two groups to pursue different interests. While everyone attended “Six” and “The Play That Goes Wrong,” smaller groups were in the house for “Company,” “Moulin Rouge!,” “Beetlejuice,” “Hadestown,” “Sleep No More” and the New York Philharmonic’s Spring Gala: “Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ in Concert.”
While arts are clearly the focus for this annual trip offered by JMArts, the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation, other activities allow students to experience the city and all it offers — from a quiet, poignant visit to the 9/11 memorial to breathtaking views from 90 stories over Manhattan at Summit One Vanderbilt to exploring New York and international cuisine at some of the city’s historic and notable restaurants.
The five-day adventure has captured the imagination of nearly everyone, including a long line of adults — including parents of J-M students — who propose a trip of their own. But for students from rural Siler City and surrounding communities, it can be a life-changing experience. For many, this has been their first trip on a plane. Their first visit to a major world city. Their first encounter with world-renowned arts. So, that changes perspectives.
What makes it all possible is generous people. Generous individual contributors at home who donate to significantly reduce the cost to families. Generous local nonprofits, like the Wren Foundation and Galloway Ridge Charitable Fund, which provide scholarships for families needing financial assistance or cover the cost of some educational activities. And generous professionals in the city who take time out of some insanely busy schedules to share their expertise, insight and advice.
Each year, the question is whether to offer the New York Arts Adventure again. It’s not easy to produce; every single plan, reservation and purchase is made by trip leaders working with students to define their interests and match those with quality work across the city. But when an informational meeting was held two weeks ago to explain the trip to prospective travelers and their parents, next spring’s trip was suddenly full. So, this must be doing something right.
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